Improv Conspiracy Blog

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Conspirator Hayley Tantau runs a blog over at where she has been posting some great content about her continuing adventures with improv. With her permission, we'll be republishing some of her best posts in their entirety. Today's post: Not Sure If: Improv Notes or Life Advice (part 2)

This new edition of ‘Not Sure If: Improv Notes or Life Advice’ is brought to you by the help of Heal Yourself, Skeletor - a meme featuring He-Man’s Skeletor and positive life affirmations. Since I found it, it has become my favourite thing as it combines humour with annoying-yet-true life affirmations. Also, I can relate every single image and quote to improvisation. Also-also, I really just wanted an excuse to use this meme.

Life affirmation: “My mind is open to new ideas”
Improv: Before you step into training or a performance, or even before you take improv classes, you need to open your mind and prepare it for the forthcoming possibilities of which you can’t control. Planning out an entire scene in your head is toxic! If you initiate a scene idea, you need to know that you’re not solely responsible for how the scene is going to go, nor are you entitled to own the scene. It’s a collaborative process.

Life affirmation: “I am open, accepting, and nonjudgemental”
Improv: This ties in to the first Skeletor affirmation above. However, this particular affirmation focusses on accepting what your partner is creating and not judging it. Judging someone else’s idea leads to blocking their idea, which leads to a muddled scene and an unenjoyable spectacle for both the performers and the audience.

Life affirmation: “Today I fully commit to my brilliant ideas”
Improv: This is a big one, especially for me personally. If you have an idea, treat it as if it’s brilliant by committing to it whole-heartedly. Del Close said it best: “If we treat each other as geniuses, artists, and poets, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.” Del’s idea goes for treating yourself that way, too (it’s harder than it sounds, but you should at least try). The best advice – and some of the only all-round advice – I’ve received thus far is simply “Get out there. Get on that stage. That’s it.”

Life affirmation: “My consciousness and curiosity are always on, plugged in, and fully aware”
Improv: Always be listening and fully aware on stage and on the sidelines (especially on the sidelines). Jill Bernard calls this “listening like a thief”. Don’t be planning further than listening to your scene partner and reacting to the last thing that has been said, or else you stop listening. When you’re on the sidelines, quickly think of your initiation for the next scene and move on – keep it in your brain, but focus on what’s in front of you.

Life affirmation: “I am the perfect partner for my perfect partner”
A good rule in long-form improv is to make your scene partner look the best they can. Support them, listen to them, react to them, and receive every offer with anticipation. In turn, you’re making yourself look good and they’ll hopefully treat you this way as well.

Life affirmation: “I am passionate about working as part of a team”
Improv: You better be! If you’re not a team player, you have no place on a Harold team. Long-form improv isn’t about you being a star, it’s about doing a great show and having fun in the process. Working together as a team and supporting one another is a fundamental part of improv training and performing. When one player makes a bad choice in a scene/group game, it’s up to the rest of the team to support and justify it. No one is to blame when you’re just trying to keep the show going.

Life affirmation: “I am surrounded by people who love me”
Improv: I sure hope you are surrounded by people who love you in improv, because it means you’re on a great Harold team. Loving and respecting your teammates makes life so much easier on stage and off. Accept each of your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and play to them with tact. If someone is shy but brimming with brilliant ideas, help them get them out there. If someone is known for their show-stealing behaviour, help them help you create a great, high-energy scene. Or even better, help them learn to trust you and your other teammates, which will allow the person to relax – they’re only out there all the time because they want to do a good show and support everyone. Love love love everyone.

Life affirmation: “I make mistakes, accept blame, and move on.”
Improv: You’re making mistakes on stage? Great! Ironically, you’re doing improv correctly. When your coach or teacher gives you a note, don’t argue with it, there’s no point – it’s just wasting everyone’s time. Listen, accept, learn, and move on. If the note is actually factually incorrect, just know that you did the right thing – don’t bother arguing with your coach, because if they misinterpreted your intention, the audience probably did as well – it happens! Also, don’t blame other team-members. If something bad happens on stage, it’s up to everyone to support and justify what has happened. This makes for beautiful, fun improv.

Life affirmation: “Today I develop effective, successful relationships”
Improv: In a scene, always bring it back to relationship and emotion. CARE ABOUT YOUR SCENE PARTNER, CARE ABOUT THEIR CHARACTER. It is so important. You can play an unempathetic character, but at least care a little for your scene partner’s character, and be unempathetic to the rest of the world. Make your relationship clear.

Life affirmation: “Today I am confident in my choices”
Improv: Commit to everything! I know from past experience that my worst scenes come from not committing to anything. These scenes are also the least fun. You may think that sometimes committing to a bold point of view, character etc. is selfish or too much, but you’re actually helping your scene partner tremendously by providing clarity and stability to the scene. COMMIT! PUT A RING ON YOUR IDEA!

Life affirmation: “Everything I give to others is a gift to myself. As I give, I receive.”
Improv: Again, this is super similar to what I said in the previous Skeletor affirmation: making bold choices is a gift to your scene partner and yourself. Everything you give to the scene is helping both of the you create a grounded, fun scene. Be bold and clear in your choices. You deserve to be on that stage, in that scene, working with that other person – now, show that to the audience.

Life affirmation: “Progress. Not perfection”
Improv: This is something my Harold team has been struggling with recently. After doing 3 bad shows in a row, we realised we were trying so hard to be perfect and to not make mistakes that somewhere along the way we lost the fun. Doing a perfect show is impossible  - so get that concept out of your head now. It’s much better to have a fun show rather than a perfect show. Trying to be perfect and being hesitant is a lose-lose situation – you don’t do a good show and you don’t even have fun up there. What’s the damn point?! Always aim to light the stage on fire with energy and enthusiasm.

Life affirmation: “My deepest truth sustains me continuously”
Improv: The company I train/perform/teach with, The Improv Conspiracy, is modelled off UCBT and iO Chicago – so essentially, the wisdom of Del Close. Del’s teachings centred around playing truthfully, because the truth is interesting and interesting is funny. If you’re finding yourself in a rough scene, fall back on truth, relationship and emotion. Wear your character as a thin veil over yourself – you’re still in there, and you’re allowed to relate to your character. Don’t be afraid to be yourself on stage or play an idea particularly close to home.

Life affirmation: “I await with wonder today’s unexpected moments”
Improv: This is the attitude you should have towards improv. Stop pre-planning scenes, characters and games to play on stage. Clear your head and simply listen and react. You’ll be fine. There’s nothing greater than watching an improviser dive off the deep end verbally or physically with an idea, only to surprise themselves and the audience with what they’ve discovered. It’s this kind of play that watching improv so ‘electric’ (as I like to call it).

One more thing: 


This post is part of an upcoming and continuing series of lessons learnt, lessons taught, mistakes being made and fun times had as an improviser in Not Sure If: Improv Notes or Life Advice. You can read part 1 here.